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Disability Protests: Contentious Politics, 1970-1999

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Old and New Social Movement

Recently, some scholars of social movements have distinguished between old and new social movements. In their view, old social movements are concerned with issues of rights and the distribution of resources, for example the civil rights movement of the 1960s (Tarrow, 1991). New social movements are concerned with values (primarily postmodern and postmaterialistic), lifestyles, and self-actualization, especially among marginalized groups (Klandermans, 1991).2 They are concerned with what some call identity politics (Anspach, 1979).

Cross-disability demands appear to be split into two major sets. Old social movement demands are concerned with the extension of the frame of civil rights to people with impairments; basically these civil rights are concerned with access (Barnartt and Seelman, 1988). The new social movement demands are concerned with lifestyle and attitudinal issues. DeJong (1983) calls the two sets of demands those for civil rights and civil benefits, while Pfeiffer (1993: 727) calls this the split between demands for rights and demands for services. The two groups of demands may also be called the disability rights movement and the independent living movement, although some people writing about collective action in the disability community seem to use the words interchangeably.

If these two sets of demands exist simultaneously, this suggests that both an old and a new social movement may be occurring contemporaneously. It is not clear without examination of data whether the split between the types of demands being made is wide enough to support this argument. This issue will be examined in later chapters.

If social movement theorists are correct, this conjunction of old and new social movements should be impossible. However, it is clear that it has happened before, in the 1970s women’s movement, when one part of the movement demanded an extension of the frame of civil rights, equality, and nondiscrimination and the other part focused on consciousness-raising. The demands were being made by two distinct sets of supporters, who also used different tactics to achieve their ends—protests used by the former and consciousness raising sessions used by the latter (Freeman, 1975). It also occurred in the civil rights movement, when the black power movement was concerned with values and life styles at the same time that the other segment of the movement was concerned with civil rights. In that situation, also, it appeared that the people in these movements were different.

In the current case, it is not as clear that there are two separate groups of people. Pfeiffer (1988) claims that they overlap, but we will be unable to examine that claim empirically because of the limitations in the data we are using. We examine the argument that there is a split in demands in chapter 5.
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